What Role Does the Thyroid Play in Health?

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Your Glandula Thyreoidea is just one of 14 major glands in your body. Better known as the thyroid gland, it only weighs between 20 and 25 grams (0.7 and 0.9 ounces) when healthy. Weighing next to nothing and measuring just 5.0 cm tall, 2.0 cm thick and 7.2 cm wide (2.0 in x 0.8 in x 2.8 in), this seemingly insignificant butterfly-shaped part of the human body is anything but.

It is located just below your Adam’s apple, at the front base of your neck, and wraps around your windpipe. While some more physically impressive glands focus on just one or two important jobs, the little thyroid could easily be considered one of your most important and versatile organs. It influences how your brain, liver, skin, heart, kidneys and other organs operate, and how healthy they are. It is not an overstatement to say that if you keep your thyroid healthy and happy, you have a great chance of experiencing overall health and well-being.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

While the thyroid influences so many important physiological processes, like metabolism and physical growth, its main job is to produce 3 hormones.

  • Triiodothyronine or T3
  • Tetraiodothyronine (thyroxine) or T4
  • Calcitonin

Iodine is a major component of both the T3 and T4 hormones, and if you are splitting hairs, those are the only “true” thyroid hormones. This means iodine is extremely important for proper thyroid metabolism. Since it is a trace element, something that your body cannot produce on its own, you need to get plenty of iodine in your food.

Your balance of hormones dictates your emotions and moods. So if your thyroid is out of whack, you could find yourself experiencing emotional highs and lows, sometimes wondering why you are feeling the way you do. Aside from directly influencing your emotional state, your thyroid helps your bones metabolize calcium properly. This small but powerful gland also helps you mature and grow physically.

Any change in body weight or energy levels means your thyroid has probably been influencing those factors. Your muscle strength, appetite, the temperature of your body, how fast or slow you mature as a child and even your reproductive process are all regulated in some part by your thyroid. When your T3 and T4 levels are healthy, so many other glands and physiological processes are healthy as well.

Pituitary Gland – The Thyroid’s Boss

The director of your thyroid is your pituitary gland, located at the base of your brain. Basically, this pea-sized order-giver tells your thyroid what to do. It sends messages to your thyroid to tell it how much hormone quantity to produce, and these messages are sent via thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH.

The pituitary gets some of its marching orders from the hypothalamus. This section of your brain releases a chemical, thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), which stimulates production of TSH in the pituitary gland. This complex communication network between the pituitary, thyroid and hypothalamus is referred to in medical circles as the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT axis).

When the answer to the TSH demands is under or over what is requested, you could experience hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. This could cause you to lose energy, become hyperactive, lose weight or gain weight, become cold, depressed, tired, and lead to health issues in your heart, brain, liver, skin and kidneys, and elsewhere throughout your body.

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